Mo Williams

Earlier this week, I discussed why Kevin Durant should and will take home the NBA’s MVP honors this season. Now it’s time to take a look at another former Texas Longhorn great, who has perhaps been and still is the most under-appreciated player in the league: Blazers’ star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

Can he lead his team to the playoffs in a seemingly bottomless Western Conference? Yes.

Will he? I believe so. Barely.

The Blazers, like the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets, are one of those fringe teams in the Western Conference that will compete for the West’s seventh and eighth seeds. I think the Mavs and Blazers will get in over Denver, as they both boast better rosters. I see Portland sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. Here’s why:

I think the Blazers have enough, at least offensively, to snag a playoff spot away from both Denver and the Utah Jazz, mainly because they slightly improved their roster, while their competitors lost key pieces in the summer. The Nuggets lost star guard Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors this offseason, so there will be a noticeable scoring void on their roster. The Jazz lost two critical pieces; center Al Jefferson landed a lucrative deal with the Charlotte Bobcats, while all-star caliber forward Paul Millsap found a new home with the Atlanta Hawks. That’s a ton of size and skill gone from their front court. The Blazers were also able to pry away guard Mo Williams from Utah. He’s a dangerously streaky scorer who can shoot his team back into a game at any time.

Now let’s take a look at the Blazers’ roster itself. Their starting five figures are Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. That’s a solid starting group; they are athletically gifted and provide explosive and versatile scoring. The bench should be at least average, if not above average. Nicolas Batum, who has improved in each of his five NBA seasons, headlines that group. Mo Williams will be the backup point guard, but can also play effectively at the two, where he is more effective anyway. Swingman Will Barton, out of Memphis, is another athlete who has dramatically improved his game. Guard CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ tenth overall pick this year, is considered to be NBA-ready and should contribute immediately. Forward Thomas Robinson and center Meyers Leonard will bring some much-needed size and interior toughness off the bench.

It should go without saying, but Aldridge is easily one of the top 15 players in the league. He will need to carry this team to the playoffs. He has one of the best supporting casts of his career, but he is still the core of this team and the focus of opposing defenses. For years, the Blazers’ problem has been that Aldridge is consistently their leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. With as many minutes as he plays – he averaged nearly 38 mpg last season – he will need help in all of these categories. But for perhaps the first time in his career, a large dose of help is entirely possible on a nightly basis.

Bottom line: This team needs to shore up its defense and improve dramatically on the boards, but it has the guns — with two potential all-stars in its starting five — to score with the best offenses in the league. As always, the rotation is eight to nine deep, but still with several fringe players who can put in solid contributions. This is a 45-47 win team that squeaks out the West’s eighth seed.